Muse (right), the 21st century prog-rock adherents, combine the drama of Queen and politics of Pink Floyd on the concept album Drones (WB). Complete with a pair of skits, “[Drill Sergeant]” and “[JFK],” Drones makes a statement, whether or not you’re paying attention. Like Muse’s aforementioned predecessors, the trio isn’t afraid to color outside of the hard rock lines, as they do on the new wave funk of “Dead Inside” and the a cappella title cut. Muse is at its theatrical best on the Queen-like “Mercy” and the mini-epic “The Globalist.”
It’s the listeners who benefit from The Vaccines infectious assortment of influences on English Graffiti (Columbia), the Brit quartet’s third album. Snotty as they want to be on irresistible opener “Handsome,” they strut their funky selves on “Minimal Affection” and go for breathless punk on “20/20” and “Radio Bikini.” “(All Afternoon) In Love” is a new kind of hybrid – a break-up song crossed with a love song and “Undercover” is almost too pretty for its own good. Get vaccinated!
Olivia Chaney (left) may make references to her “Chelsea Mourning” in “Imperfections,” but she owes more to Linda Thompson and Sandy Denny than Joni Mitchell on her neo-traditional folk debut album The Longest River (Nonesuch). Combining potent originals including “Loose Change,” “Too Social,” the gorgeous “Holiday” and the aforementioned “Imperfections,” with a traditional such as “False Bride” and “There’s Not A Swain,” an adaptation of a 1693 text by Henry Purcell and Anthony Henley.
At 25, Laura Marling is a music industry vet, with five studio albums to her name, the first of which was released when she was just 18. The music on her fifth disc Short Movie (Ribbon) may not be as varied as say, that of her debut Alas I Cannot Swim, but it definitely succeeds on its own merits. Opener “Warrior” is one of a few songs, including “How Can I” that recall vintage acoustic Joni Mitchell. Marling reaffirms her own distinct artistry on the title cut, as well as on “False Hope,” “Don’t Let Me Bring You Down” and “Divine.”
As this year’s class of British invaders goes, Glass Animals (right) stands out for its uniqueness on Zaba (Harvest), beginning with the opening track “Flip.” With the less than subtle suggestion of violence set against a hypnotic and raw melody, the song hooks the listener like an illegal narcotic. “Pools” provides the first definitive dance beat on the disc giving you the excuse you need to dive in and shake it. “Gooey” might be the stickiest chill-out number of the year and “WYRD” is as weird as it is wired.
Former X-Factor competitor Ella Henderson’s hopefully titled album Chapter One (SYCO/Columbia) is a pleasing, if undistinguished introduction to the singer/songwriter. Henderson has a powerful set of pipes which she employs to great advantage on the occasionally bombastic tunes, including “Empire” and “Pieces.” When she reins it in, as she does on “Missed,” “Yours,” and “Mirror Man,” she sounds more like herself than someone trying too hard to be the British Kelly Clarkson or Katy Perry.
By Gregg Shapiro